Emma: A bowel cancer story #PissOffPhyllis


Someone much wiser than me once told me, “Your life is a collection of stories. You don’t know how many of them there will be or which one will be your last, so strive to make every one a good one.”

So let me tell you two stories about my friend Emma and her newest ‘companion’ Phyllis.

Across a crowded room

Emma is a fellow blogger who lives on Jersey with her husband and two daughters. She writes at Island Living 365. We first met – or rather didn’t quite meet – at a blogging conference in 2016. She was up for an award, which she won. I was up on stage delivering one of the bloggers’ keynotes in the form of a solo karaoke performance. One of us was far more deserving of recognition than the other. (Spoiler: it wasn’t me.)

As Emma tells it, she was keen to meet me. She spotted me across the room, waved her arms frantically and yelled, “Tiiiiim!” at me … and I was completely oblivious to her.

Anyhow, after that inauspicious start we’ve kept in touch via our blogs and social media since. Back when I was running the Meet the Parents podcast, Emma kindly agreed to guest on a couple of occasions and she was always a delight to talk with. She’s thoughtful, funny and chatty – the kind of friend everyone needs to have in their life. The kind of friend you only want good things to happen to.

Introducing Phyllis

Life isn’t always fair like that, though. As much as we try to reassure our kids that good things happen to good people, one of the things we inevitably learn as we grow up is that fate can be a bitch.

We also learn that life can change in an instant. Two months ago, a medical consultation led to the discovery of a cancerous polyp in Emma’s bowel. She named it Phyllis.

The best laid plans et cetera, et cetera.

As she does, Emma has written about her experiences openly and selflessly, from the story of her diagnosis through to starting chemotherapy and how she is tackling the sense of hopelessness by focussing on completing a Race for Life run next month.

“Piss off, Phyllis” has become her rallying cry.

The size of Dover

As bloggers, we sometimes overuse the word ‘community’ in our little industry. We do build networks of friends and peers but we also compete with each other: for page views, for paid work, for awards and rankings.

However, at times like this there really is a genuine community that pulls together.

There are many bloggers who are far better friends with Emma than I am, and others who know her only in passing. And yet hundreds of us have rallied to the cause to support her and her blog at this difficult time, and to reinforce the message of awareness about bowel cancer. If you have seen social media and blog posts bearing the hashtag #PissOffPhyllis, that’s what this is. Many voices sharing the same story.

And it’s an important message too. Bowel cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer in the UK. On average, someone in the UK is diagnosed every 15 minutes. That’s 42,000 people every year: the equivalent of the population of Dover.

Of all the different types of cancer, it is also the second biggest killer. One person in the UK dies as a result of it every 30 minutes. In the time it takes to watch an episode of EastEnders, bowel cancer will claim another life.

The risk of getting bowel cancer increases with age. 94% of new cases occur among the over-50s. Even so, 2,500 people in the UK under the age of 50 will be diagnosed with it each year.

The good news is that bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Vigilance and rapid action can make all the difference in saving lives and writing a happy ending to the story.

As for Emma, no one – not her, not any of her friends, not me – knows quite how her story will end. But we will be with her every step of the way, wishing her well in her ongoing battle. Sometimes the best stories are the ones in which you have to fight the hardest. Sometimes all a story needs is an audience.

Good luck, Emma. And #PissOffPhyllis.

You can find more information about bowel cancer on the Bowel Cancer UK website. You can also follow Emma’s ongoing personal journey at Island Living 365 and via her Twitter and Instagram accounts, and sponsor her Race for Life fundraising efforts for Cancer Research UK.


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